A limited hunt of gray wolves has gotten underway in the Upper Peninsula(UP), after years of delays due to lawsuits brought by environmental groups. For years farmers and hunters have complained about wolves preying on livestock and attacking deer.

Gray Wolf

Limited wolf hunting returns to Canada.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are 658 wolves in the Upper Peninsula, along with a handful on Isle Royale. The wolf has been delisted from Endangered Species Act protection.

The ESA is a separate issue from the issue of a hunt, to some extent. Under the ESA, ranchers could not legally kill a wolf unless it was threatening a person’s life, except they could kill a wolf if they saw it in the act of attacking a sheep or cattle. But they couldn’t legally kill a wolf if it was simply stalking their animals.

An interesting article by FWS staff member George Parham – from before the delisting – makes it clear that some of the people who live close to wolves dislike them. They are hunters, and ranchers who say that wolves are killing their livestock.

“As with most Law Enforcement issues, investigating wolf kills presents unique challenges,” Parham writes. “Policing vast areas – there are thousands of square miles in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula , for example – means chances are not good that illegally killed wolves will be found. Even when a kill is discovered, agents must investigate quickly; other hunters still afield may have heard or seen something. However, anti-wolf sentiment keeps people from coming forward. While rewards have been offered in Michigan and Wisconsin for information on illegal wolf kills, they have so far been ineffective. Illegal wolf kills are applauded in some communities, and it’s not unknown for hunters to be offered under-the-table pay for killing a wolf during coyote hunting tournaments. Fund-raisers are sometimes held to raise money for shooters who incur fines for killing wolves. ”

Despite that, the gray wolf has thrived in the U.P. and other western Great Lakes states, and so far a handful of wolves have been legally shot in the first year of the legal hunt. Last week Jill Fritz, an operative for the Humane Society of the United States, appeared on a local program to discuss plans for a referendum to outlaw future wolf hunts [Nov. 22 episode, about 14.21 into the program].

The program host suggests that even if the referendum were to pass — which it probably would — the legislature would be able to do another maneuver to get around a successful referendum.

Public domain photo by US Fish & Wildlife Service — Midwest Region.